By Hans Pedersen, Dec. 18, 2014.
From Zero Theorem to 20,000 Days on Earth, a number of movies pushed the boundaries and expanded the language of cinema this year. But only a select few will make the Top 10 “must-see” lists or catch the ensuing awards buzz.
As a bonus, many of this year’s best titles feature LGBT themes (think: future community classics) and here’s Echo’s Top 10 films of 2014 (in no order).
The Skeleton Twins
Heartwarming without meandering into maudlin territory, this inspired comedy, now out on video, showcases the range of co-stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. Hader’s performance as a self-loathing gay man, and Wiig’s as the self-sabotaging sister, are both Oscar worthy. The worst criticism you could lob at this movie is that it’s the perfect comedy-drama formula.
Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette star in this monumental near-masterpiece that documents a rather ordinary series of events in a boy’s life. While there’s no gay content, you’ll be awestruck by this feat of a film, which director Richard Linklater shot on 35mm over a 12-year period to create the seamless effect of watching a boy grow into a man.
Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson brings his stylized whimsy to this movie about a dilapidated hotel and its glorious pre-war history. F. Murray Abraham plays the caretaker sharing the story, joined by Ralph Fiennes and a list of Anderson regulars – Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray – help elevate this superior film into the stratosphere.
The Imitation Game
Oscar buzz is already swirling around Benedict Cumberbatch for his performance as Alan Turing, a cryptanalyst at a secret school for code-breakers in Britain during World War II. With an electrifying storyline, the film follows the post-war injustice that unfolds as Turing is prosecuted for gay sex. Now in theatres, look for the name of this incredible movie to pop up at Oscar time.
Both a riotous crowd-pleaser and a tear jerker (I was a faucet of tears for the final half hour), this uplifting movie explains how gay activists in the United Kingdom built solidarity with striking miners in the 1980s. Directed by Matthew Warchus, this movie might have passed you by in theatres, so invite the girls over for a movie night during the holidays – it’s out on video Dec. 23.
Love Is Strange
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play an aging couple that get married and wind up losing their home and moving in with relatives. Marisa Tomei co-stars as the family member who’s losing her patience in this tale about life’s ups and downs. Due out in January, the film by Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On) proves how the right cinematography and music can truly evoke a New York state of mind.
Under The Skin
Scarlett Johansson stars as an otherworldly entity who preys upon men looking for a good time. Luring them into a trap of sticky black goo, they’re undressed, immobilized and destroyed. What’s amazing is how a male erection is actually quite a surprising sight in a sci-fi movie. But the ambient soundtrack and pacing are the truly seductive elements in this chilling creeper.
When his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears, Nick (Ben Affleck) is watching everything he says – is that because he’s guilty or because people are all too willing to believe he’s the killer? It’s a question driving part of this film, until chilling twists develop. Neil Patrick Harris plays a wealthy heterosexual obsessed with Amy, and Missy Pyle with a spot-on impression of Nancy Grace.
To Be Takei
A love story and a biopic about George Takei, best known as Capt. Sulu on Star Trek, who’s a part-time Arizonan. This profile of the couple looks back to how the actor battled stereotypes and became a powerful political player in the digital age. The film shows how the 77-year-old pays tribute to his family with the stage musical Allegiance about World War II internment camps where Japanese-Americans were incarcerated.
Powerful camerawork and snappy editing add punctuation to this story of a student at a prestigious music school who’s willing to give up everything for drumming unless, under the pressure of an abusive teacher, he gives up the instrument entirely. J.K. Simmons stars as the teacher who hurls homophobic and anti-Semitic epithets, and Miles Teller is the “drummer boy” who struggles to persevere.
12 More Films To Watch This Season
In addition to our Top 10, here’s a dozen other great films that you’ll want to add to your “to-watch” checklist:
Calvary | A skillful portrayal of a doomed priest embracing his fate, with an unusual caricature of a male prostitute who specializes in clergymen.
The Fault of Our Stars | Bisexual actress Shailene Woodley is remarkable in this heartbreaker that, despite itself, is a film where “beautiful people learn beautiful lessons.”
Stranger By the Lake | A haunting and explicit thriller about how a man’s infatuation trumps common sense at a cruisy French lakeside spot.
Citizenfour | The film itself is a piece of history, documenting Edward Snowden’s revelations about illegal NSA spying to journalist Glenn Greenwald.
The Theory of Everything | A love story about the woman who fell for one of the world’s greatest minds, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne, in an amazing performance).
Dear White People | Provocative satire that includes a gay African-American student caught up in campus racial tensions.
The Overnighters | A story of a boomtown and how the person you least expect can turn out to be gay.
Wild | Reese Witherspoon is outstanding as a heroin addict Cheryl Strayed who goes on a vision quest – 1000 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail.
Obvious Child | It’s easy to root for Jenny Slate in this quirky and charming love story. Look for Gabe Liedman as her cheeky gay best friend.
Nightcrawler | Creepy, dispassionate TV news stringer Lou Bloom ignores the law and ethics in his quest for money shots.
Fed Up | It’s tough not to include this one in the Top 10: by following the film’s advice to cut hidden sugars, I lost 40 pounds (yes, that sounds like spam, but it’s true).
Drunktown’s Finest | An engaging trio of interwoven stories about three Navajo Native Americans, including a trans character.